Cold Weather and Dogs – Pet tip 248
Every winter in North America there are days when it is freezing cold; so cold that it is uncomfortable for humans to be outside for a long period of time even when we are bundled up. But what about our dogs, just how much cold can they take? We see plenty of dogs outside even in the most frigid temperatures; when is it too cold for them to be outdoors?
For the sake of clarity let’s talk about domesticated dogs that live with us and not ‘wild dogs’. The general rule of thumb is that if it’s too cold for humans to be out, it’s too cold for dogs. There’s a lot of variability with a statement like that so let’s clarify. There’s cold and there’s REALLY cold; and when it’s windy it normally feels colder than it is. As tough North Americans, we often start feeling that it is ‘just too cold’ when it gets below -15 to -20 degrees Celsius. Certainly dogs that have double coats and longer fur that is designed to withstand extreme temperatures can stay out longer than we humans like to be outside. Dogs in this group include Huskies, Malamutes, Samoyeds, Elkhounds, Newfoundlands, Akitas, Shiba-inus, Saint Bernards, Bernese Mountain dogs and other breeds. Many of these breeds will stay outside for hours and hours if you let them. For breeds like these in good health, normal or longer walks are no problem even in the coldest of temperatures. It is almost always the human that wants to return home sooner than the dog. Should these animals sleep outside, that’s another question and it’s up for debate. Given that dogs are social creatures, most veterinarians agree that it’s better and safer if the dog sleeps with its human family indoors.
If we are talking about a breed of dog not built for extreme winter temperatures (most dogs), then the ‘too cold for human too cold for dog’ rule is more applicable. Use common sense. A small Chihuahua can stay out for a shorter length of time than a German Shepherd or Labrador retriever. Look at their fur and/or coat. The longer and thicker it is, the longer they can stay outside. Dogs with short coats should wear doggie jackets that can be found in most pet stores. Some dogs have really sensitive paws as well and will benefit from doggie booties. Their paws can be sensitive not only to the cold but to de-icing salt as well.
A dog left out in the cold for too long or taken on a walk that is too long in really cold temperatures can easily suffer from hypothermia and frostbite which are life-threatening and require immediate veterinary care. Signs that your dog is getting too cold on a walk include; its hair standing up (pilo-errection), shivering, difficulty breathing, bright red tissues, lifting its paws up, weakness, refusing to walk, crying etc. If you are in doubt about how long your particular dog can stay outside given your particular geography, then please ask your veterinarian for his/her/ opinion.